Westward they roll
With an ear toward the sounds of this country’s past, New Orleans’ Hurray for the Riff Raff tours America
Chico, CA 95928
Punk rock is a gateway drug, responsible for many a lifelong addiction to music.
It starts innocently enough, with mixed tapes passed by friends, hearing The Dead Milkmen at a party or sneaking into your older brother’s stash of Clash records. Ten years later you’re scouring dingy record-store bins for Louvin Brothers and Charlie Parker albums, constantly seeking harder thrills and stranger highs.
Such is the case with Alynda Lee Segarr—frontwoman for New Orleans’ Hurray for the Riff Raff—whose musical journey began as a 13-year-old Puerto Rican girl sneaking out of The Bronx on a subway to catch shows at ABC No Rio in Manhatten’s Lower East Side.
“I really loved punk-rock music when I was younger, and through that I met a lot of kids who traveled around the country and were really interested in Depression-era music,” Segarr said by phone from New Orleans. “Which is a funny meeting of worlds, but it happens pretty frequently, I’ve found.
“Through them, I got really interested in leaving New York and exploring the country,” said Segarr, who left the city at 17 to ride freight trains and hitch around the country.
“I ended up in New Orleans in my travels and met some really great people that were into playing traditional folk and country music. I respected them so much and really loved the music they played and really wanted to join in. With their help, I started playing washboard and picked up a banjo, and really it all just fell into place.”
This story is retold more lyrically in the band’s song “Blood River”: “I grew up by the river Hudson/ Deep and dark as your feet can sink/ stuck inside the project buildings/ where the sun can never look at your face.”
Segarr’s largely autobiographical lyrics drip like honey over her sparse banjo and guitar work. The rest of the Riff Raff add a wide range of instruments, including violin, accordion, the occasional xylophone and whatever else might be lying around.
To date, they’ve self-released an out-of-print EP and two albums and gained a reputation beyond the Big Easy. The most recent is this year’s Young Blood Blues, and Segarr says the songs keep coming.
“We have a lot of new songs and are hoping to find a good label … not even necessarily a good label, but any label that will help us with recording costs,” she said, laughing.
In the meantime, Hurray for the Riff Raff is embarking on its first national tour—a marathon of more than 40 shows in just less than two months.
“We’ve never traveled beyond the East Coast and a little in the Midwest,” she said. “This is really our big tour that we’re going to try to see how long we can last. I named it the ‘Pastures of Plenty’ tour after a Woody Guthrie song, because we’re going to see so much of the country and be wandering around so much I thought it was appropriate.”
The tour also marks another first for the Riff Raff: “We just got a van, which we’re really excited about. It’s our first one, and it’s big enough for us and [touring mates, also from New Orleans] Sam Doores and the Tumbleweeds to ride in together.
“We’ve always traveled in other people’s cars and little station wagons and stuff, so it’s exciting to have a big van and feel like a real band. Plus, I’ve always wanted to name a van.”
At interview time, the van remained unnamed. “I feel liked we should get more of a feel for it before we name it,” Segarr explained. A few days later a message came through the grapevine: They named the van Fluffy.